Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Timely reminder 2 & pantheon movie of the month - NETWORK

There is no America. There is IBM and Du Pont and Dow Chemicals.In NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy lament the fact that every generation feels that it is uniquely witnessing the decline of humanity into barbarous savagery. And yet, no matter how far we think the bar has fallen, our children will no doubt distantly remember a golden age of civilisation and see their own frail dotage as the era of scandalous decline. I suppose one small upside to this relentless cycle of disillusionment is that we can truly relate and fully appreciate great cinema afresh.

NETWORK is an incredibly famous and highly praised movie originally released in 1976. It articulates rage at the devaluation of politics after a kleptocratic presidency; rage at an economic meltdown characterised by spiralling inflation and rising unemployment; moral and phsyical exhaustion after an long-fought war; and disillusionment with the crass commercialisation of the media. Sound familiar?

The genius of NETWORK is to express all this rage through a premise so preposterous you almost catch yourself believing it; so funny you want to laugh, but so perceptive you're scared to admit it.

One night, a beat-up old news-caster, the victim of poor ratings, tells millions of viewers that he is going to blow his brains out on TV. At first, the production team are so self-involved they don't even notice what he's saying. After much ado, the news-caster goes back on air for a final show, but loses his cool again, railing against the bullshit: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

At first, the Network is furious with his outburst, but a brilliant young studio executive realises that they have a hit on their hands. Here's a man who can articulate the angst of his time - tapping into the visceral fears of the viewers - and turn them into high ratings, prime-time advertising and the proverbial phat cash. The newscaster is given a glossy prime time show where he's encouraged to rant against the very machine he's feeding. And it doesn't stop there. The Network fills its schedules with radical, subversive TV. Communist revolutionaries broadcast guerilla terrorist attacks live, but squabble over distribution rights when the camera's off. The message is utterly miserable: you may rage against the machine, but the machine is so damned efficient that it will use your energy as fuel. Finally, it will spit you out.

NETWORK drips with class. You've got Sidney Lumet, of TWELVE ANGRY MEN fame, as director, eliciting fine performances from his cast. Peter Finch won Best Actor for his role as the angry prophet; Faye Dunaway won Best Actress as the glamourous, talented but ultimately soul-less studio exec; Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting Actress for a small but incredibly powerful role as a scorned wife; and Ned Beatty was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in his role as a ruthless corporate boss.

Lumet and his DP, Owen Roizman (THE FRENCH CONNECTION) create a documentary syle early on which helps keep the movie feeling credible despite the increasingly absurd story. We wander around news-rooms and into studios with a fluid camera. In addition, we never here an orchestral score: the sound-track feels realistic.

But the real star of the show is screen-writer Paddy Chayevsky, whose scabrous, darkly funny script is always shocking and utterly compelling. Not since DOCTOR STRANGELOVE have we seen humour and tragedy so brilliantly combined.

NETWORK was originally released in 1976 and is widely available on DVD. Peter Finch won Best Actor postumously; Faye Dunaway won Best Actress; Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting Acress;and Paddy Chayefsky won Best Original Screenplay. Ned Beatty was also nominated for Best Actor but lost to Jason Robards for ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN; Owen Roizman was nominated for Best Cinematography but lost to Haskell Wexler for BOUND FOR GLORY; Sidney Lumet was nominated for Best Director but lost to ROCKY; Alam Heim was nominated for Best Editor but lost to ROCKY; and Howard Gottfried was nominated for Best Picture, but lost to ROCKY.


  1. This movie is perfect for the times here in the US of A. Especially after last night's Democratic Debate which is riling up a shit storm of annoyance. Network is amazing and definitely one of those movies that should be viewed in any film/politics/media class.

  2. I would go further: I'd make it required viewing in compulsary civics lessons.